PRINT September 1988



TWO WOMEN IN BIKINIS jog the beach, running in step, stride for stride. The woman on the right, in the red bikini bottom and Yves Klein Blue, Calvin Klein-like sports bra, seems to be talking. You can't see her mouth, but you can tell she is smiling as she looks into the eyes of her jogging partner. The woman on the left is wearing bikini bottoms that seem to match the blue of the right-hand woman's top, not the lighter air-force blue of her own sports bra. Is the other woman wearing her bra? Is she wearing the other woman's panties? The woman on the left has dark brown hair. Her smile reveals her teeth. She may be making eye contact with her partner or she may be looking at her lips. The woman on the right wears her blond-tipped hair in a ponytail poked through the back of her red adjustable baseball cap. The woman on the left wears a man's Rolex Oyster strapped to her upper arm. Her blue baseball cap is on backward, bill pointing behind her head, iconographically alluding to inverted orientation. As her head turns to face her partner, the bill points down at the line of foamy surf about to surge into and eradicate her deep balled footprint, just pressed into the wet salty sand.

“He loves my mind,” one best friend says to another. “And he drinks Johnnie Walker.”

On a poster of this ad on a subway platform, written in black marker over each woman's derriére: MIND.

The buttocks of these women, wrapped with perfect nobility of line, exposing a discreet bun cleavage at the lower perimeter, are the dual foci of the picture. The biscuits are saucy and appealing. Firm but not muscle-bound. Free of present and future cellulite. The Platonic Ass. A pair of them, cruising the beach together, cruel, indifferent, and majestic as dorsal fins.

In the lower-right-hand corner of the ad is the logo of Johnnie Walker whisky, the silhouette of a Puck-like man in jodhpurs and tailcoat, striding along with a walking stick, holding up a monocle beneath his top hat. Next to the logo is the brand's slogan: “Good taste is always an asset.”

Perhaps, but despite the seeming universal appeal of these dual tandem love bumpers, there are those capable of scoffing at the perfection of these professional buttocks.

On a poster of this ad in the Canal Street subway station, in black marker, written over both women's posteriors: “FLAT WHITE ASS.”

Posted on the subway entrance on the corner of Broadway and Prince, in SoHo, in the heart of Guerrilla Girls country and diagonally across the street from the gallery of Max Protetch, paid consumer of J & B scotch, is a Johnnie Walker beach scene that has been altered a little more expertly. Using professional type and Xerox, the altering artist has actually rewritten the copy:

“He loves my mind when he drinks Johnnie Walker.”

Does he love her mind or her behind? Or is it perhaps that for the adman her behind, not her brain, is the seat of her wisdom? Is it possible for buttocks to serve as muses to the mind? Is it possible that perfect mind, that Godhead, might reside in those whose rear is ideally and symmetrically proportioned? The form of these women is sublime. They could serve as reference works for what is currently desirable in the human figure. It would seem that these women are being used. But might they not partake of goddesses and archetypes? Is it possible that their use itself is being used by a “higher power”? Are these asses double agents in the cold war of culture?

One of the things I love about advertising is that it makes you think.

The Johnnie Walker campaign, created by the Smith/Greenland agency, does make you think. As far as I can tell, the beach scene is the most provocative, but the other examples of the campaign are not without their points. Two elegantly attired corporate hunks in a clubby barroom ogle a woman (out of frame): “She was Law Review. And she drinks Johnnie Walker.”

Two stunning women, having their hair done as they apply their makeup: “He thinks it's fine for me to make more than he does. And he drinks Johnnie Walker.”

A woman in fashion extremis, wearing about five figures of clothes, chats on the phone: “He's flying in on the red-eye just for my party. And he drinks Johnnie Walker.”


You might think that these ads have somehow upset me, but let's make it clear. These ads are inspiring. In the labyrinthine passages of the subway, their path through the sand represents salvation. Their seemingly naive trust in man's respect for woman represents forgiveness. The salvation and the forgiveness may present themselves in the form of “sexploitation,” but who is using whom here? Just as the gods mount the dancers in voodoo rituals, perhaps this is a case of goddesses mounting a campaign. There is more message here than whiskey and women.

Anyway, does one really think these women drink Johnnie Walker, or much booze of any kind? Maybe she meant to say, “He loves my mind. But he drinks Johnnie Walker.” There are some significant butts in the picture already.

If she were talking about me, how would I interpret it?

Sure I love her mind, and I love her butt just as much. Of course, I love her girlfriend's mind too. It's a problem. But with problems like that, yo, what me worry?

Glenn O'Brien is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. His column on advertising appears monthly in Artforum.